Richard Saunders’ hidden talent

By Diane Baker  /  Staff reporter

Fri, Sep 13, 2013 - Page 12

Many people in Taipei know Englishman Richard Saunders as the author of several guides to hiking and traveling around Taipei and the nation, the founder of a hiking group and a blogger on the joys of hiking, not only in Taiwan, but around the world.

Fewer people know that he is also a concert pianist, having studied at the Royal College of Music and London College of Music, who performs both solo recitals and as an accompanist.

Saunders will be giving a recital tomorrow at Taipei’s Forum Auditorium that highlights his interest in 20th-century British, French and Spanish composers.

Given his love of hiking and traveling, it comes as no surprise that several of the pieces he will be playing in A Recital of Piano Music from Three Continents (音樂短旅:來自世界各地音樂的鋼琴獨奏會) were written by composers who were inspired by their visits to the countryside or to other countries.

One of his recent projects has been mastering Leopold Godowky’s Java Suite, which he said he hopes to perform in full next year. He will be performing excerpts tomorrow from “Book Two” (Chattering Monkeys, Borobador and Bromo volcano) and “Book Four” (The Ruined Water Castle, In the Kraton and Solo). The 1925 experimental work was composed after Godowky visited the main Indonesian island of Java and became intrigued by gamelan music.

Other works on the program include English composer John Ireland’s The Island Spell — which was written in 1912 while he was visiting the Channel Island of Jersey and is one of the three pieces that make up Decorations — and April, from 1925’s Two Pieces. Excursions was American composer Samuel Barber’s first published solo piano piece and explores several distinctly American musical idioms: jazz, blues, cowboy songs and barn dances. The Iberia suite is considered Spanish composer Issac Albeniz’s masterpiece, evoking as it does several of the different regions of Spain, and Saunders has chosen two pieces, El Albaicin and Jerez.

Francis Poulenc’s most famous solo piano work is Les Soirees des Nazelles, composed during trips to the French countryside over a period of six years.

American Alan Hovhaness composed hundreds of orchestral, chamber and choral works and was interested in a wide range of Asian as well as Western music. Saunders says Hovhaness’ short Two Ghazals was inspired by Iran.

From the program it would seem that a good subtitle for Saunder’s program would be “music for the armchair traveler,” offering as it does a chance to enjoy a wide range of cultural influences without having to leave Taipei.